This essay, just like the three previous ones, highlights characteristics helping the seeker on his path. They also support those who already know who they truly are to resolve disrupting automatisms in their way of thinking and feeling.
The inability to endure cumbersome, disappointing, unpleasant and unsatisfactory situations characterizes especially seekers from the West. In part, this is due to the fact that the West is dominated by the idea that everyone is in charge of their own fate. The secular variant hereof is the self-made man or the self-made woman: I alone shape my life and if I fail, I haven’t shown enough effort or I haven’t worked hard enough on my personality in order to achieve this goal. The religious-clerical variant is measured by the degree of how much something pleases God: If I am such that God is pleased by it, my life runs according to my wishes. If it doesn’t, I have to try and please God more, so that finally life works out the way I want it to.
More about the Western feasibility-myth can be found here: Essays Logically and Psychologically and here God?. The origins of this feasibility-myth lie in the Judeo-Christian tradition – after all, the bible says: “Subdue the Earth”. But when the Judeo-Christian God was still anchored more solidly in the Western world of ideas, it was his doing, after all, which resulted in frustrating situations for man – in the shape of punishment and educational measure. From the two above-mentioned essays becomes evident that the concept of god is completely different in Vedanta and hence also results in a different attitude toward life.
In the current world, which is by and large free from god, Western man takes everything that doesn’t work according to his ideas personally. He tends to automatically interpret it as a sign of personal failure – which it is not necessarily. The former role as victim has turned around into the contrary. Man has become the pivotal point of life, which completely overstrains him – simply because no-one is the pivotal point in life. By contrast, he who thinks of himself as embedded in a larger context and recognizes that his personal contribution to what is happening represents merely a little stone within the mosaic of an entire creation also acknowledges that some things will not work according to his likings. Actually, everything that does work according to our likings nevertheless is a real stroke of luck.
Moreover, most Western spiritual seekers are part of an affluent society, which means that they are spoilt. The older ones, born between the 50’s and 70’s, witnessed how the material situation continuously improved during their childhood and youth. At the same time, they often suffer from a lack of actual love and warmth. This combination of material wealth and lack of love is particularly difficult, because some simply cannot stop demanding compensation for that lack of love. Demand from whom? From everything and everybody. The younger ones, on the other hand, do not feel the lack of actual care as much, however their demand to be pampered by life is a lot stronger, because many of them did not lack anything at all. In the end it comes down to the same thing for everyone: a lack of frustration competence.
In Vedanta, the equivalent of the term “frustration competence” is the Sanskrit-word “titiksha”. One could translate the word titiksha as endurance, but it is more than that. Titiksha is the ability to endure the opposites in life. Life is a dual thing – not in its essence, but in its expression. Opposites determine our experience: hot-cold, light-heavy, full-hungry, dark-fair, clever-dumb, fine-coarse, fullness-emptiness, quiet-noise, summer-winter, etc. And opposites belong together, because nothing in this world of appearances is eternal. At the peak of summer, the year turns toward winter. Following the nightly rest comes the daily noise. There are interesting and boring people and situations in this world, beautiful and ugly things, healthy and sick things. All these opposites are nothing but varying expressions of life – he who has titiksha takes them as given, without being fixated on one or the other form of expression.
Of course it is natural to have preferences. But identifying with one’s preferences results in a lack of titiksha. And titiksha is important for the spiritual seeker. The search takes a long time, it requires a person to stay at it, even during phases when apparently nothing seems to move forward. It requires for a person to sometimes do things he would have normally rejected, it also requires a person not to do things he normally always used to do. Why? Because he who leaves everything the way it has always been, can also merely come to the result he has always had. And every seeker is per definition someone who refuses to be satisfied with the results achieved thus far, but strives for another result. Even if he knows that what he seeks cannot be found some place else in time and space, but that he himself is what he seeks – yet he also knows that the true nature of the true self remains hidden. And he wishes to lift the veil of his ignorance.
How does one remedy ignorance? Through knowledge. How does one attain knowledge? Through learning. What is learning? On the one hand, gaining knowledge step by step; on the other hand, a gradual acquisition of skills through which one is able to benefit from the acquired knowledge. Both are necessary for ignorance to be ultimately replaced by knowledge. In Advaita Vedanta one studies the Upanishads, which consist of discourses between student and teacher and that are exclusively about attaining knowledge of the true Self. With these studies one gains knowledge / information to begin with. But the skills that make it possible to benefit from this knowledge have to be sought in practical terms. Titiksha is one of these skills.
The more a seeker lacks titiksha or frustration competence, the less clear one’s reasoning. If one is unable to remain relaxed in frustrating situations, emotional upheaval will continue to restrict one’s cognitive abilities. On the one hand, one wastes a lot of time and energy by reacting to unpleasant situations. Second, one is so occupied by personal interests during decisive moments that there is neither space for the search for knowledge, nor for a superior perspective.
Even after recognizing the true self, it may be useful to continue working on titiksha, because at times it happens that someone with relatively little frustration competence gains the knowledge as well. This knowledge is irreversible. But the fruit of the knowledge – peace – remains absent as long as the frustration competence is flawed.
How does one attain frustration competence?
To begin with, one has to be entirely clear that one wishes to have more of it and – very importantly – that one will only have more of it, if one does something for it. He who does not take responsibility for his lack of frustration competence may wait for all eternity for it to materialize miraculously. Instead, one has to become active.
It is best to approach the topic from various angles. Mid-range and long-term, exercises such as meditation and prayer may help. The meditation may be silent or dynamic. However, I do recommend to the seeker on the path to knowledge not to perform any cathartic meditation. And what kind of prayer? This is very simple: It will bear fruit to ask for more frustration competence on a daily basis. However, meditation and prayer are exercises that will only bear fruit if executed daily. Together, these do not need to take up more than 15 minutes at a time, but regularity is indispensable.
Another exercise tackles the topic more directly. It consists of a focused frustration training, which rests on one’s own initiative. Select one frustration you wish to expose yourself to voluntarily, for a period of time determined in advance. Actually it doesn’t matter what it is about, but it should neither be too difficult, nor too easy. Smiling at your sullen neighbor for a week, cleaning up the basement for three hours, not eating anything for a day, learning a poem by heart on a weekly basis for a period of two months, etc. Depending on how much self-discipline you have at your disposal, even small exercises may pose a big challenge. But this is precisely why it makes sense to make this frustration training a habit, with changing tasks. Because if titiksha is an issue, frustrations appear as insurmountable hurdles and unbearable burdens. Some perceive them almost as life-threatening. Through this frustration training one learns that they can be controlled.
Now, the main frustration triggers are often located in the emotional domain and many of those cannot be construed for the sake of an exercise. However, this doesn’t render the above exercises useless – but what is it that helps in the direct confrontation with difficult situations? What “emergency program” can one resort to, just in case?
If other people trigger frustration, one should leave the situation as quickly as possible, preferably under a pretext – and not with a sentence burdening others with the responsibility for one’s own frustration. Even if one leaves for just a short while, in order to take a deep breath and to get in touch once again with one’s own yearning for more frustration competence, it helps. Second, in case no other people are involved, it is about recognizing one’s own feelings: I am angry, I am hurt, I am lonely, I am sad, I am afraid. These feelings are not necessarily pleasant, but they are a fact.
Those lacking frustration competence often feel that certain emotional reactions should not be. But the fact is: they are there. One doesn’t get rid of them by not wanting them to be there. Emotional maturity consists in letting them be – as long as they continue to exist. But since they are emotions, they do not continue to exist; they surface and vanish once again at some point – unless one tries to fight them. Fighting one’s own emotions is the best recipe for maintaining them. See the essay about emotions.
Emotions are not life-threatening, not even the most unpleasant ones. In fact, all of us have survived them at least once and will continue to survive them in the future. It is a childish idea to think they could cost one’s life. This childish idea is also what a defense mechanism is based on, which boils down to holding others responsible for one’s own reaction. However, nothing else is responsible for one’s own reactions, except for one’s own lack of titiksha.
With a view to frustration competence dealing with one’s own emotions in a mature manner is an important key. This too has to be practiced. Maturity does not come into being by itself, nor does it emerge overnight. But he who doesn’t start, will never reach the goal. As mentioned before, this is not about “getting rid” of whatever emotions, but about feeling and enduring them just the way they are, without taking them too seriously. They are nothing but waves in the ocean, sometimes small, sometimes bigger, but without permanence. In Vedanta, emotions are thought of as thought formations, and all forms – material, energetic, thought-related – are volatile.
The only thing that continues to exist is formless, eternal consciousness, which is able to perceive forms and yet remains untouched by them. Consciousness can be compared with electric current, while any form can be compared with a light-bulb or another electrical appliance. The electric current allows the lamp to glow, but in itself remains completely independent from the lamp. The lamp only grants it a way of expressing itself, which however it doesn’t depend on. By contrast, the lamp, in order to fulfill its function, is entirely dependent on the electric current. He who knows in any situation that he is consciousness remains unfazed by emotional ups and downs – just as little as the electric current is touched by whether it makes a 15-Watt lamp glow, a 3,500-Watt floodlight or nothing at all.
Titiksha, as we saw before, is the ability to accept the opposites occurring in life with composure. For the seeker wishing to recognize the non-duality of existence, titiksha is an important building block on the path. And for the one whose knowledge appears to become obscured repeatedly even if for a short time, titiksha is what grants him the desired peace. Because titiksha makes it possible for the seeker to take a position looking out beyond duality. Increasingly, he stops identifying with one or the other. He neither fights what doesn’t please him, nor is he so impressed by what pleases him that he would want to hold on to it by all means.
He who lacks frustration competence has to accept that it takes a little effort to develop the same. Why? Because it already takes frustration competence to develop it. Hence, one has to start working with the quantum of frustration competence one already possesses. And if this is rather little, one has to expect setbacks. The only thing that may help to cope with these – as we already saw in the last essay – is a high motivation. I have to have truly recognized that I can’t manage without titiksha and that it is up to me to do something for the sake of it. Such a high motivation will give the seeker the strength to develop titiksha or frustration competence.